A crossword is a type of puzzle in which words are written across and down in a (usually square) grid, and clues are supplied for the words. Black squares are used to separate words which appear in the same row or column.

There are several different varieties of crosswords (see also other word puzzles): American crosswords, cryptic crosswords and British-style crosswords, Pencil Pointers, etc.

Crosswords have been around since the early 20th century. What is commonly called the first crossword puzzle, by Arthur Wynne in 1913 and now out of copyright, is presented in its entirety on E2.

The crossword is derived from a 19th-century crossing-word puzzle called the form, which is a simple geometric shape filled in with words. Forms included word squares, diamonds, hexagons, pyramids (really triangles, but they were called pyramids), stars, and some more elaborate shapes. Forms often used the same words reading across and down, but some forms, called double forms, use different words across and down.

Forms are still alive today in the National Puzzlers League, and as the occasional word square, but outside of small groups like this they are rarely seen.

Indeed, the "first crossword puzzle" is a valid form, a type called a (double) hollow diamond, but what makes this puzzle different is:

  • It uses a numbering system more like the one used today. Forms typically just numbered the rows and columns, and provided a clue or set of clues for the word or set of words in each row and column. In Wynne's crossword, each clue is labeled with the numbers of its start and end squares, and those squares are numbered in the grid in the usual left-to-right and top-to-bottom fashion.
  • It presents a grid, with black squares indicating the spaces where no letters are entered. Forms usually didn't provide a grid, but depended on solvers understanding the form shapes that were used, and being able to construct a grid based on the number of rows/columns.
  • It was the first in a regularly published series which within a year, transformed into something much like the American-style crossword of today.

In the next 10 years the crossword became very popular, and many newspapers started publishing weekly or even daily crossword puzzles. In 1924 the first book of crossword puzzles was published by Simon & Schuster. This book found overwhelming success and spawned a series of crossword puzzle books still being published today.